Linking biological samples found at a crime scene with the actual crime event represents the most important aspect of forensic investigation, together with the identification of the sample donor. While DNA profiling is well established for donor identification, no reliable methods exist for timing forensic samples. Here, we provide for the first time a biochemical approach for determining deposition time of human traces. Using commercial enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays we showed that the characteristic 24-h profiles of two circadian hormones, melatonin (concentration peak at late night) and cortisol (peak in the morning) can be reproduced from small samples of whole blood and saliva. We further demonstrated by analyzing small stains dried and stored up to 4 weeks the in vitro stability of melatonin, whereas for cortisol a statistically significant decay with storage time was observed, although the hormone was still reliably detectable in 4-week-old samples. Finally, we showed that the total protein concentration, also assessed using a commercial assay, can be used for normalization of hormone signals in blood, but less so in saliva. Our data thus demonstrate that estimating normalized concentrations of melatonin and cortisol represents a prospective approach for determining deposition time of biological trace samples, at least from blood, with promising expectations for forensic applications. In the broader context, our study opens up a new field of circadian biomarkers for deposition timing of forensic traces; future studies using other circadian biomarkers may reveal if the time range offered by the two hormones studied here can be specified more exactly.

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International Journal of Legal Medicine (Print)
Erasmus MC: University Medical Center Rotterdam

Ackermann, K., Ballantyne, K., & Kayser, M. (2010). Estimating trace deposition time with circadian biomarkers: a prospective and versatile tool for crime scene reconstruction. International Journal of Legal Medicine (Print), 1–9. doi:10.1007/s00414-010-0457-1